When it comes to celebrating the Catholic faith, the role of music is more than simply shoehorning a couple of hymns in a Sunday Mass.
It is a normative part of Catholic liturgy, says , director of music and organist for Christ Cathedral in the Diocese of Orange.
“It’s not just something that’s nice to have once in awhile,” says Romeri, whose experience in music direction includes serving as director of Liturgical Music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and director of the Office of Sacred Music for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.
Many of the prayers are written to be sung, especially “the ordinary” of the mass, such as the amens, the Gloria, the Responsorial Psalm, and the “Kyrie eleison,” or “Lord, have mercy,” Romeri says.
“Our music is dialogic, and it’s sung by nature,” he says. “The Gloria is a song that must be sung, not recited. And reciting the Responsorial Psalm would be like reciting ‘Happy Birthday.’”
The curtailing of music in years past is a holdover from the low Mass concept in which this type of service only included a couple of hymns and rest of the Mass was spoken instead of sung, Romeri says.
But the role of music is changing with a newfound appreciation for it in services.
New composers are beginning to look again at the propers of the Mass such as the procession and communion antiphons. Hymns will also be less about one’s actions and refer more to scripture.
“There are wonderful, rich texts there, centuries old, which we’ve kind of ignored, especially here in the United States, so we’re getting back to that,” Romeri says. “Singing the scripture and the propers is the important next step for almost all pastoral musicians.”
Music will mix old with new, Romeri says, pointing to a recent service that included pieces from Mozart with newer selections such as “I Have Chosen You” by James Chepponis, a living composer.
Romeri also pointed to parishes in Orange County that excel musically, including St. John the Baptist Parish, home to the Norbertine priests of Saint Michael’s Abbey in Orange.
“They seem to have some pretty good music going on, from their children’s choir to their own music making as an order,” he says of the Norbertine priests, who do reverent public chanting of the choir office.
Romeri himself is tasked with developing the cathedral music program for Christ Cathedral. He also will conduct the newly formed Cathedral Choir and the Diocesan Choir.
“I think there was a time 30 or 40 years ago when people thought that choirs had no role, but we know better,” Romeri says. “Being an active participant doesn’t always mean your mouth is open. It might mean that your ears are open. It’s just like looking at great artwork during the liturgy or a beautiful stained glass window or hearing a fabulous anthem, whether it’s (16th Century Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da) Palestrina or something that was written just a few weeks ago.”
Romeri says there’s a unity in singing prayers together, rather than just reciting them.
“There’s a certain consciousness in singing that brings it a little more in focus,” he says. “The hope is, as we build repertoire for our congregations, that this piece will feel and taste like Easter, or it will feel and taste like Good Friday. And there will be a certain something that calls to mind that season for us and leads us closer to prayer.”